Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Crazy for "Crazy for the Storm"

Most people try mountaineering by choice, but others are forced into it by circumstance.  Such was the case for Norman Ollestad.  In February 1979, a small plane carrying the 11-year old boy crashed into Ontario Peak in the San Gabriel Mountains of southern California.  The injured boy found himself perched precariously in a steep, icy chute in the upper reaches of a drainage just north/northwest of the summit.  Reluctantly leaving his dead father and pilot behind, Norman and Sandra, his father's girlfriend, began a terrifying, inch-by-inch descent of the steep chute, roughly 3,000 feet above Chapman Ranch.  Unfortunately, after descending just a few feet, Sandra slipped and plummeted about 2,000 feet to her death.  What followed for the young Norman was a harrowing descent that called upon every piece of mountain wisdom imparted by his father over the years.

Crazy for the Storm, written by Norman Ollestad, is primarily a book about surviving a plane crash, but it is also about the complex relationship between a boy and his larger-than-life father.  Norman's father was an extremely interesting and motivating figure.  He once wrote a tell-all, insider's tale about Hoover's FBI and routinely coaxed Norman beyond his comfort level on surf and turf to find diamonds in the rough.    

This book is riveting from start to finish.  I was at the edge of my seat not only during the sections chronicling Norman's survival epic, but also during the sections about surviving a broken family.  Some of the most suspenseful moments in the book occur when heated interactions involving his tempestuous stepfather rise to the combustion point.      

Now I must make a confession.  I didn't read this book.  Yes, you read that right.  Just to be clear, I'll say it again: I didn't read this book.  Instead, I listened to the audiobook, which is read by Norman Ollestad himself.  Norman's spoken reading is excellent.  There are subtle changes in his tone throughout the book which greatly enhance the listening experience.  For instance, when speaking as the young Norman, he assumes a slightly sullen and bratty tone.  However, when talking about being a father himself, he sounds more like his indomitable father.

Norman returned to the remote (and elusive) crash site in 2006 and published his memoir thirty years after the crash.  His amazing recollection of details indicates that he is still reeling from the impact.

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